Mobile Future

What’s Next for the National Broadband Plan?

Cross-posted from Huffington Post

Heading into the mid-term elections, these are divisive times in the nation’s capital. But today Washington witnessed a rare moment of comity, as the Federal Communications Commission released its much-anticipated National Broadband Plan. All five commissioners signed a joint statement embracing the broad objectives of the plan.

It will take days, if not weeks, for the various stakeholders to fully digest a blueprint of this ambition and scope. But before the detail-oriented debates ensue — and the inevitable divisions emerge — it’s worth taking a moment to step back and offer an appreciation of the process that got us to this potentially historic day.

President Obama was elected on the promise of inclusive and connected government. In crafting this plan, the FCC offered a compelling model of how that gets done. The efforts of Chairman Genachowski and his broadband team have been exceptionally open. The three dozen policy workshops on topics ranging from civic engagement to connected health were webcast live and archived online, allowing ample opportunity for citizen engagement. Several dealt exclusively with the potential of mobile broadband, ranging from thoughtful debates on spectrum to discussions of bleeding-edge applications and wireless deployment. Commissioners also reached outside the beltway, holding nine field hearings throughout the country to bring diverse perspectives into the conversation.

As for the product itself, I am heartened that the Commission recognizes the critical role wireless technology can play to spur global competitiveness, innovation and sustainable job creation. Profoundly significant to mobile consumers and innovators alike is the vow to free up 500 megahertz of wireless spectrum. This is essential progress to support the boom in connected devices — from the iPhone to the Kindle to mobile medical tablets, digital textbooks and future innovations yet to be imagined.

Other regulatory proceedings that may flow out of the plan could be more polarizing. The depth of division and passion on both sides of the net neutrality regulatory debate is well-known. And, the rumors of an attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s landmark Brand X decision, which essentially upheld the privatized nature of U.S. broadband networks, would likely make the net neutrality debate look like a walk in the park.

Likewise, narrower proposals to create new rules — whether to impose wholesaling requirements or mandate the provision of “free” broadband services — would affect many aspects of the already intensively competitive and innovative wireless market and could actually undermine the very laudable objectives of the national broadband plan. The FCC must resist these extreme calls and tread carefully to avoid disrupting an American industry that leads the world and is working extremely well today.

Among the cornerstones of the plan is a ‘shoot for the moon’ goal of connecting 100 million U.S. households to 100 megabits per second broadband service over the next decade. Goals of this ambition require an unshakeable policy foundation that is unequivocally supportive of investment. This means the many rulemakings that likely flow out of this plan must be cohesive in nature — pulling in the same constructive and unifying direction and staying true to the Chairman’s early and firm commitment to fact-based, data-driven decisions.

As we look to the future, I hope the Chairman remains steadfast in his commitment to encouraging a wireless ecosystem that can fundamentally transform our society and our economy. As we begin the long and hard process of translating bold ideas into concrete, attainable and constructive actions, the hard work is yet ahead. It is my hope that we stay true to this open and participatory process and keep in sight the larger goals of advancing deployment, accelerating investment and promoting genuine competition.

History will judge this plan on its effectiveness. If it does so favorably, a nod is due to the process that got us to this day. It’s a famous old adage in Washington that you don’t want to see the sausage being made. But thanks to the very innovation we unite today to celebrate and advance, a new era of openness and participatory government has arrived.

Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served as an advisor to and spokesperson for Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration.